Informal Learning: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 5th, 2011 by bobmorris

Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance Jay Cross
Pfeiffer (2006)

In the Introduction, Jay Cross makes a number of crisp assertions, several of which are certain to generate controversy. For example, “Workers learn more in the coffee room than in the classroom.” Rather than take this out of context, I continue the excerpt: “They discover how to do their jobs through informal learning: asking the person in the next cubicle, trial and error, calling the help desk, working with people in the know, and joining the conversation. This is natural learning – learning from others when you feel the need to do so.” So far, no pyrotechnics. Cross continues: “Training programs, workshops, and schools get the lion’s share of the corporate budget for developing talent, despite the fact that…” and then, “this formal learning has almost no impact on job performance. And informal learning, the major source of knowledge transfer and innovation, is left to chance.”

Presumably several of those who read this review agree with Cross (as do I) that the value of formal learning tends to be exaggerated when, in fact, much of it has little (if any) enduring impact; and, that the value of informal learning tends to be underestimated when, in fact, the extent to which an organization achieves its objectives (whatever they may be) is determined almost entirely by positive and productive engagement: how effectively those involved (at all levels and in all areas) communicate, cooperate, and — most important of all — collaborate (i.e. the Three Cs) on what must be done to achieve those objectives. For those in need of a single source to guide and inform their design and implementation of a knowledge exchange program that maximizes the Three Cs, Cross has written it.

Granted, the current economic Whatever continues to have a significant impact on discretionary funding. In fact, it has created severe financial for most organizations as well as for most individuals. Nonetheless, whatever the state of an economy, the fact remains that the ROI on a combination or formal and informal learning is certain to be substantial if (HUGE “if”) there is no Learning-Doing Gap.

Years ago, after a substantial tuition increase at Harvard had enraged many parents, then president Derek Bok responded with a suggestion: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”


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